Earlier this year I posted a thread on closing out my wine collection as I believe I have accumulated far more than I can possibly drink in a lifetime and if I’m wrong it’s not a bad thing to do total depletion and start over.
But I never said anything about spirits. Well, with a final acquisition done at the SAQ this weekend during which I came in to Montreal to take my nieces and nephews to a double bill of Thor: Ragnarok and Justice League… the whisky shop is now closed too.
Maybe even more so than the wine collection, the spirit collection has shown an incredible evolution in both my palate and the marketplace itself. Although my personal favorite Cognac was the gateway spirit, it was actually single malt Scotch whisky and American bourbon that captured my fervor and palate at the beginning thanks to being friends with known Scotchhound Mike Grammer… and they sadly ended up as the two spirits I loathe the most thanks to the no age statement ripoffs perpetrated on impassioned imbibers everywhere.
The collection ends with a mere two 21 YO Scotch whiskies and a single 20 YO American bourbon as a result. No regrets. I wisely always bought 21 year old whiskies and the most high end bourbons I could afford without exception and acquired a handful of some astonishingly beautiful ones: Balvenie Portwood, Glenlivet Archive, Tomintoul, Lismore, Glendronach, Auchentoshan and of course the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. I got into these two spirits at the exact right time when they were still acquirable and affordable and got out at the exact right time as far as I am personally concerned. The whisky highlight of my collecting came when I had Mike Grammer stand in line for me and acquire the BTAC for me when it was released in 2010 to the LCBO in Ontario in limited release, a feat that neither he nor myself have ever been able to pull off again.
The three most pleasant discoveries of my spirits journey are the severely underrated Grappa from Italy, Brandy de Jerez from Spain and fruit Eau de Vie d’Alsace/Marc d’Alsace, the former being distilled from macerated fruit and the latter being made with leftover wine must a la grappa. The highlights here were acquiring the entire Jacopo Poli barrel aged grappas; 30 year old Brandy de Jerez; fruit eau de vie from not just Alsace but also Italy, Germany, and the USA in order to compare to each other; and just this weekend… an extremely rare Marc de Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives d’Alsace which is so big and sweet it actually distills brown in color as opposed to clear.
The single most surprising discovery was bitters. I was led to this eventually by my Vermouth discovery and have settled on blending my own by combining grassy Unicum, minty Fernet Branca and sweet orangey China-China to make my own bitters and in this case the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.
I also fell into rum but I don’t really consider that a discovery as it wasn’t new to me. I just hated the stuff until I learned about and tried sipping rum. My collection is very small as I focused on very artisanal rums that were barrel finished, long aged and/or solera based. Highlights included a couple of 21 YOs, an 18 YO, sherry barrel finished rum, and rums from all over Latin America whom I now consider far superior to Carribean rum makers. Having grown up in violent Central America, I really associated nothing good with the Latin culture until this discovery which enabled me to achieve a small measure of peace and respect for it.
Of course, I can’t forget my first love of Cognac and its sibling cousins Armagnac and Calvados. While these suffer from a little of the same BS the whisky and bourbon markets see, it is nowhere near as bad and if you hunt carefully you can acquire some amazing stuff at very affordable prices as long as you stay away the big houses and support the artisanal family makers. I got some ridiculously good spirits at even more ridiculously low prices, the greatest two being a 30 year old Calvados and an incredible 50 year old Armagnac. I shared the latter with quite a number of people and it just blew them and me away.
Lastly, spirits also enabled me to combine my love of alcohol and food tinkering together when I learned how to infuse them. I made a cacao infused rum and several fruit infused bourbons and Cognacs that lasted me for years and were beautiful additions to iced tea pitchers. In this spirit, pun intended, I did also end up acquiring 3 bottles of the Grand Marnier Centennaire at different times to enjoy.
The end comes with 50 bottles dead on which for most people is just a well stocked bar, but I’m a guy who will never overindulge and drinks 1 oz a night to the drop. Trust me, it’ll last me. And like the wine collection, even if it doesn’t in the end, it will be fun depleting it all before I have to restock. Until then if ever, cheers!